A Research Paper By Vernée Smith, Life & Career Coach, UNITED STATES
The Benefits of Risk Taking and How to Best Move Clients Through Taking Risks
As I explored risk in my Power Tool, I wanted to take a deeper dive into the topic. The following transcript is an interview with Alyssa Mullet a Certified Professional Coach and SHRM-CP. Alyssa helps me investigate the benefits of risk-taking and how to best move clients through taking risks.
Vernée Smith: Well, thank you for joining me today, Alyssa.
Alyssa Mullet: Absolutely. My pleasure.
Vernée Smith: Alyssa would it be ok if I record our interview for my ICA graduation?
Alyssa Mullet: Yes, certainly.
Vernée Smith: Alyssa Mullet is a Certified Professional Coach, and then also a Certified Professional with the Society of Human Resource Management, correct?
Alyssa Mullet: That’s correct. Yep.
Vernée Smith: Great. So, today, I wanted to discuss risk with you, because it seems to be an important part of a coaching/client relationship, at least as far as I’ve seen. Alyssa, how do you define risk?
How Do You Define Risk?
Alyssa Mullet: Maybe I don’t have a traditional take on it. But in my experience with coaching, primarily physicians and healthcare executives, and that kind of thing, the term risk means a lot of different things to them, right? Because that’s a kind of life and death, that the majority of at least the clinicians are dealing with daily. So, to me, the risk is much more personal than the generalized idea of risk. I define risk as an opening or a confrontation of a known vulnerability. That’s what risk is to me.
Vernée Smith: Oh, I like that; the tie into vulnerability.
Alyssa Mullet: Yes, that’s the essential part of a risk to me is that it’s associated with vulnerability.
Vernée Smith: Because there does seem to be a general, human fear of vulnerability. And some of that might be cultural, depending on where you come from, especially in America where we are. There definitely seems to be this huge fear of being vulnerable and what that means.
Alyssa Mullet: That’s right. Because of this exposure in a world that is predisposed to power over structures, right? Vulnerability is like the anti-tool to a power over-structure. And that’s why I define it as essentially a risk because it seems to go against everything that we generally try to lean into with control and power- over our lives, over other people, over structures, that kind of thing.
Vernée Smith: Yeah, control can be difficult. It’s something that I think is almost an illusion, that we try to grasp. I had this college professor that said, this really smart thing once and he said, “try to be in charge not in control.” Because if you’re in charge, you can be flexible, and go with the ebb and flow of things whereas if you’re in control, and something breaks, then you freak out.
Alyssa Mullet: That’s beautiful. The way that resonates for me is whenever you say you’re in charge, that feels like that’s something that comes from within and goes through you. And it’s externalized in your actions and your talk and your behaviors. Whereas control is generally something that you’re trying to externalize, right? Make it from the externalized. Control these groups of people, control these actions, control the outcomes, right? And it can truly never be internalized.
Vernée Smith: That’s true. And I think when we’re looking at risk, we are trying to navigate what we can control versus what we can’t and so much of risk is about what we can’t control.
Alyssa Mullet: Yeah, it’s this balancing act and it’s all a false dichotomy.
Vernée Smith: So why do you think the risk is important?
Alyssa Mullet: I think that a life absent of risk, would be absent of depth.Even if you think about it as not externalizing or not trying to apply it in your relationship to others, in terms of expressing vulnerabilities or confronting a vulnerability with another person, but rather, turning that inwards. I think that there’s a risk that is accepted and required of us to grow; that self-curiosity to confront and to risk knowing ourselves at a deeper level, right? That risk is required in the journey inward- self-awareness and self-curiosity, in battling prior trauma. And just in general, how you can create a more healthful self-perspective comes with assessing your own vulnerabilities. Thus, risks.
Vernée Smith: Yeah and being willing to find out something that you don’t know.
Alyssa Mullet: Yeah, right. Right.
Vernée Smith: Because I think that’s part of what keeps people from taking those risks. We talked a little bit about that. There’s the vulnerability piece; there’s fear of vulnerability and fear of the unknown. What other things keep people from taking risks? What did things get in the way of your clients?
Alyssa Mullet: Um, I think that fear is a huge aspect. Like we just touched upon a little bit, there’s this fear that you are going to inevitably give someone the recipe for yourself-ruin, or how they can break you, right? If I expose this about myself, if I approach you in this way, it’s risky for me. It’s a vulnerability to me that you could then use against me, right? So, there’s this required trust, that has to be built surrounding risk. And a lot of us, I think, don’t have that much trust in a lot of people, certainly not in the workplace, because we’ve been hurt, we’ve been let down by people professionally, and in absolute terms, personally. Whenever we look at ourselves, can I trust myself enough to examine this vulnerability for myself? Will I send myself into a tailspin with my mental health by examining this risk? Am I trying to control the outcome of that risk? Right? And I think that that piece of offering up an examination or an opportunity to conquer risk, with the fear of relinquishing control, is like, those are heavily bonded terms that our brains and our hearts and our minds and our souls have very different approaches to, and yet, it’s just one big bowl of thing that we have to examine.
Vernée Smith: Definitely. How do you think the status quo comes into play for people when it comes to risk?
Alyssa Mullet: Status quo I am in the comfort zone. And that’s where we all like to think that we are. And when an idea or a concept or another person maybe tries to tell us that something shouldn’t be the status quo, or that it’s not the status quo we thought it was, again, those walls of trust in what we know to be true about ourselves, about the world that was brought up in, they start to crumble. And so, the risk is being able to assess, can I take a look at this without the entirety of my reality crumbling alongside this status quo?
Vernée Smith: Yeah, I think that’s also wrapped up in the fear of being wrong. Right? That we’re somehow not who we think we are. And understanding that we might be wrong in our perception or wrong in our approach- that we can create a dystopia for ourselves that we now have to live in and can’t go back from. It’s the looking glass, right? Once you stepped through the looking glass, you can’t go back.
Alyssa Mullet: Well, I think that this is the main reason why my coaching approach has centered around being able to name and authentically align with your values. So that what you are trying to align with is not someone else’s status quo, is not someone else’s ideals. It is a value-oriented and self-judged mechanism to look at the world. And so, you either align with your values and your approach and your assessment of that risk, or you don’t; and that’s part of the process.
Vernée Smith: Is that how you address risk with your clients? Is that where you start?
Alyssa Mullet: Yeah. That definitely is a centerpiece to it. I think in addition to understanding whether or not the risk assessment process is aligning, or misaligning, with your values, and your orientations or what I call values and action – as in actions of authenticity. The other thing that I have done with my clients, that has been really impactful, for myself included, is a lot of somatic processing work. When we get activated, generally our bodies are activated whenever we are in a risky situation, right? Whether we know it or not, in that present moment, our heart rate might speed up, our gut might start to churn, we might get that shooting, little fuzzy pain from our collarbone up through our neck, all kinds of ways our body is sending us signals and messages to say, “Hey, pay attention! Something’s going on here!” And so being able to sit with your own self at the moment, and certainly reflect on that of the body is important in moving through risk for yourself. Being able to name what is going on in your body, name the emotions that are coming up with that risk assessment, or what part of that might have presented a risk for you. There’s the real power of self that can come from being able to just sit with yourself and being able to move through what your body is telling you. Being able to name your emotions and sit with them without judging yourself. That’s the other key element of this- is just to be able to notice, notice all of that without judging it. This is part of the process. This is how I inform myself. Self-knowledge is power. And that is how we’re going to attain it.
Vernée Smith: Well, there’s a risk in that too; in that self-knowledge. People come to terms with new information and are aware of their biases and things like that. There’s a risk in taking that step. And then you’re asking them to take another step further past that. Like, “let me sit with my emotion without judgment,” because in that I think there’s a lot of what we perceive as risk. For instance, if I don’t judge myself, it lays open for everybody else to judge me; I should fix all of myself before everybody else.
Alyssa Mullet: Right. “I judge me before you judge me.” Somehow it will negate the risk.
Vernée Smith: Somehow is safer.
Alyssa Mullet: Absolutely. That’s exactly right, Vernée. Somehow, it’s safer. Right? And what I think that has done to us over the course of years of self-judgment is that it has absolutely eroded, if not nullified self-trust.
Vernée Smith: So, do you think in order to take a leap, to take a risk, that we have to have a certain level of self-trust?
Alyssa Mullet: I do. I think when you feel like you’re risking everything, you have to know that you won’t lose it all.
Vernée Smith: That you won’t lose yourself?
Alyssa Mullet: That’s right.
Vernée Smith: Yeah, I could see that.
Alyssa Mullet: You know, and I speak that from a truth, having taken some risks, personally and professionally. I always come back to, okay, I’ve done all of the things. I’ve coached myself around this risk. And I’ve prepared myself. I’ve tried to create my own safety during that process, but in the end, I am not in control of the outcome. That’s how it lands in the world, and how others judge me is not something that I can control. And so, it is an inherent risk, when you move through that process. I think that what I have rested in is once again, that my approach and my actions align with my values. That’s my safety zone. And I know that even though I could risk everything, I could risk, money, family ties, all of those things, at the core, I must be risking them for something that’s at the core of who I am. I am never going to lie to myself about who I am and compromise with someone else’s ideals.
Vernée Smith: Wow, that’s powerful.
Alyssa Mullet: You know, it’s so interesting because I can feel that now. In the moments when you are in that process of risking it all, and even in the moments after, where you might be grieving something that you’ve lost, because you took that risk- it feels very different. Again, I think that risk, vulnerability, the building of self-trust, that’s self-power that you will not ever lose. And once you have risked, time and time again, the best part of that is that you get to continue to build that self-trust. You know, I did this before, I’ve done hard things before, and I can do it again. You get more affirmed in who you are, and how you operate in the world, by taking those risks.
Vernée Smith: It’s almost like a bank account. Like you’re putting your trust coins into yourself.
Alyssa Mullet: That’s beautiful. That’s a beautiful analogy.
Vernée Smith: So, understanding that we have this fear component, this values component, and this trust component, how do you move your clients through a risk? They come to you and say, “I want to do this thing. I’m not sure what to do. Help me.”
Alyssa Mullet: There are several different strategies and tactics. The overall altering one that we talked about was obviously the value process. Sometimes I have asked my clients if there’s a specific risk that they want to take. Like saying something to confront someone on XYZ issue. Or approaching a boss about a sensitive topic or that kind of thing. One of the things that we talk about is actions of authenticity. What are your values and actions? Your values in action, I should say. When someone is at their peak of authenticity, in each one of their values, what is that peak person? That persona?That ideal? What would they do? What would they say? So, you’re embodying your peak authenticity. You are verbalizing and visualizing. What am I going to wear? How am I going to look? How am I going to feel in my body? What are some of the words that I could be using? That’s a specific tactic that I might use with a client, depending on the process. Some of the other more simplistic ones are we look at what is the worst that could happen. And what is the best thing that could happen? And while we’re generally not playing to the worst-case scenario, there is a comfort, once again, in knowing. Okay, if the worst happens, I’ve still got this. I have a plan, if the worst happens, and I start bawling my eyeballs out, and it’s something that I don’t want to do in front of this person, you’ll just excuse yourself from the room. You know, planning and having a pathway to be able to give yourself an out of that situation is important. I think whenever you build in a plan or an approach to taking risks, you have to be able to build in some breathing room for yourself, too. That’s one of the things that I try to instill in my clients is that part of the process is to not be so reactionary generally. The somatic processing helps us not to be so reactive. Rather, we’re in our bodies, we’re feeling what we’re feeling both in our emotions as well as in our bodies. That’s informative. Okay, I’m feeling that burning in my gut, which means that I generally want to go across the table and spout off on this person. And because that’s not going to be the risk that I want to take today, I’m going to put my hands on my stomach and do a little deep breathing, so that I can regain my composure, and I can respond rather than react.
Vernée Smith: I like that a lot. Because it’s not giving yourself a trapdoor or a parachute to exit the situation. It’s like when you see somebody in distress, and you say,“back up, give them some space!”; it’s giving that to yourself.
Alyssa Mullet: That’s right. The other one that I like to use a lot is, whenever people are approaching a risk that might be discerned as a “wild card”- you really have no idea where this conversation might go, it is helpful to have an arsenal of qualifying questions. Because questions are opportunities for us to inform ourselves more so that we can then say, “Okay, this person might not be able to receive this message today. I’m going to dial back my risk here and go with option B.” Or it might be an opportunity when you ask a follow-up question, like, could you tell me what that means? Or what does that mean to you? Or how can you help me understand at you’re what you’re telling me? Those kinds of questions can make the person we are in that scenario feel more in control, because that’s, again, the dynamic that comes up. Whenever we’re talking about risk there is this power and control up for grabs. One person is offering it and one person might be taking it. Who knows?
Vernée Smith: That’s true. Wow, that’s good. That’s really good. And then just one last question. What benefits have you seen either in yourself and/or your clients from taking risks?
Alyssa Mullet: Well, you know, from experience, as I mentioned, the building self-trust is unquantifiable. There is such a tremendous knowledge of self once you have moved through a true risk. And you come out on the other side. You grieve the thing, you celebrate the thing, you do all the things, and you’re still you. The amount of pride and utter being of self that is available to you is a beautiful thing. From a client perspective, I have seen people be able to identify their boundaries more. They know more quickly if boundaries are being crossed for them, and they’re able to articulate them in a way that they feel more confident about. It comes from a place of more self-assuredness. Living more authentically is an outgrowth of that then as well. Dreaming bigger dreams for yourself. Like, if I risked it all for this-What else? What else should I question? What else should I get uncomfortable about? Dreaming those bigger dreams is powerful.
Vernée Smith: Definitely. And it sounds like you get comfortable with getting uncomfortable. You start to mitigate the risk of discomfort. Like you said before, “I know I can handle this. So, I can probably handle that.”
Alyssa Mullet: It’s like a threshold, right? Like, you start to edge yourself towards that threshold. And then you’re like, hey, I did that last bit, I can go a little further.
Vernée Smith: And you surprise yourself with who you actually are, in a good way.
Alyssa Mullet: Hopefully, not necessarily daily, but sometimes that happens to me as well.
Vernée Smith: We go through waves, I think, where it’s like discovery, discovery, discovery, risk, risk.
Alyssa Mullet: Yeah, yeah. For sure.
Vernée Smith: Any closing thoughts on risk?
Alyssa Mullet: I think that a risk is a tool and a weapon. And we need to make sure that we can wield both. Within self preferably first.
Vernée Smith: That’s deep.
Alyssa Mullet: You know that’s where I thrive; down here in the deep.
Vernée Smith: You and Adele, Rolling in the Deep! (laughter)
Alyssa Mullet: I’m in good company! (laughter)
Vernée Smith: You are. You are in very good company. Well, thank you so much for joining me today.
Alyssa Mullet: My pleasure.
Vernée Smith: It was my pleasure indeed. Thank you.
Addressing Risk Is an Instrumental Part of Coaching
I have learned in this interview that addressing risk is an instrumental part of coaching. If our lives are to have depth, we must take risks. In order to help our clients, navigate the vulnerability of risk we must help them tap into their values. We can assist them in evaluating the fear component, the values component, and the trust component to see the benefit of the risk. We can also aid them in finding strategies and tactics to move through risk successfully. Addressing risk with our clients can lead to amazing outcomes including self-trust, authentic actions, identifying boundaries, and dreaming bigger.